advanced cancer

a general term describing stages of cancer in which the disease has spread from where it started (the primary site) to other parts of the body. When the cancer has spread only to the nearby areas, it is called locally advanced cancer. If it has spread to distant parts of the body, it is called metastatic cancer. See also metastasis, metastasize.


breast cancer

cancer that starts in the breast. The most common types of breast cancer are ductal carcinoma in situ, invasive ductal carcinoma, invasive lobular carcinoma, medullary carcinoma, and Paget disease of the nipple (see definitions under these headings). Lobular carcinoma in situ is sometimes listed as a non-invasive type of cancer, even though it is not a true cancer.



a group of diseases which cause cells in the body to change and grow out of control. Most types of cancer cells form a lump or mass called a tumor. (Not all tumors are cancer. A tumor that is not cancer is called benign, while a cancerous tumor is called malignant.) A cancerous tumor can invade and destroy healthy tissue. Cells from the cancer can break away and travel to other parts of the body. There they can continue to grow. This spreading process is called metastasis. When cancer spreads, it is still named after the part of the body where it started. For example, if colon cancer spreads to the liver, it is still colon cancer, not liver cancer.

Benign tumors do not grow and spread the way cancer does. They are usually not a threat to life. Note that some types of cancer, such as blood cancers, do not form tumors. They can still threaten life by crowding out normal cells. See also benign, malignant, metastasis, tumor.

cancer care team

the group of health care professionals who work together to find, treat, and care for people with cancer. The cancer care team may include any or all of the specialists listed. Whether the team is linked formally or informally, there is usually one person who takes the job of coordinating the team. See also medical oncologist, radiation oncologist, pathologist, oncology clinical nurse specialist, oncology social worker, neurosurgeon, surgeon, gynecologist, gynecologic oncologist, urologist.

cancer cell

a cell that divides and reproduces abnormally and can spread throughout the body, crowding out normal cells and tissue. Cancer cells develop because of damage to deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). See also cancer, deoxyribonucleic acid, mutation.

cancer screening tests

see screening.

cancer susceptibility genes

genes (the basic unit of heredity) inherited from one’s parents that greatly increase the risk of a person’s developing cancer. About 5% to 15% of all cancers are caused by these genes. See also gene.

cancer vaccine

a vaccine used to help the body fight cancer cells. So far, a vaccine has been approved to help treat cancer (not prevent it). It is made for each patient using pieces of their tumor and works by causing their immune system to recognize and attack the cancer cells. There are also researchers trying to develop vaccines to prevent certain types of cancer, although none have yet been approved for use. Another type of vaccine that is already in use reduces cancer risk indirectly, by helping the body fight cancer-causing viruses such as the human papilloma virus (HPV) and the hepatitis B virus. See also human papilloma virus.

cancer-related fatigue

an unusual and ongoing tiredness that can occur with cancer or cancer treatments. It can be overwhelming, last a long time, and interfere with everyday life. Rest does not always relieve it.

colorectal cancer [ko-lo-REK-tuhl]

colon or rectal cancer. Since colon cancer and rectal cancer have many features in common they are often referred to together as colorectal cancer. See also colon, rectum.

colorectal cancer screening [ko-lo-REK-tuhl]

testing done to find abnormalities early, before signs and symptoms start. This allows cancer to be found earlier, when it is most curable. Some types of screening allow doctors to find and remove polyps, which can even prevent cancer from developing. See also screening, barium enema, colonoscopy, fecal occult blood test, fecal immunochemical test, polyp, sigmoidoscopy.


distant cancer

cancer that has spread far from its original location or primary site to distant organs or lymph nodes. Sometimes called distant metastases. Compare to localized cancer. See also primary site, metastasis.


hereditary cancer syndrome

conditions linked with cancers that occur in several family members because of an inherited, mutated gene. See also mutation, gene.

hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer [huh-RED-ih-ter-ee non-pah-lih-PO-sis]

also called HNPCC. An inherited condition that greatly increases a person’s risk for developing colorectal cancer, as well as endometrial cancer (cancer of the lining of the uterus), ovarian cancer, small bowel cancer, and cancer of the lining of the kidney or the ureters. People with this condition tend to develop cancer at a young age without first having many polyps. See also polyp.

hereditary prostate cancer genes

any of a number of genes that are linked to prostate cancer. Inherited deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) changes in these genes may make prostate cancer more likely to develop in some men. Research on these genes is still in early stages, and genetic tests for most of them are not yet available. See also deoxyribonucleic acid, gene, prostate.


inflammatory breast cancer

a type of invasive breast cancer with spread to lymphatic vessels in the skin covering the breast. The skin of the affected breast is red, feels warm, and may thicken to look and feel like an orange peel. About 1% of invasive breast cancers are inflammatory breast cancers. Also called inflammatory carcinoma or IBC. See also invasive cancer, lymphatic system.

invasive cancer

cancer that has spread beyond the layer of cells where it first began and has grown into nearby tissues. Compare to carcinoma in situ. See also malignant, metastasis.


large cell lung cancer

see non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

localized cancer

also called local cancer. A cancer that is confined to the organ where it started; that is, it has not spread to distant parts of the body. Compare to distant cancer, metastasis.


non-myeloid cancers

all cancers other than myeloid leukemias. Non-myeloid cancers include all types of carcinoma, all types of sarcoma, melanoma, lymphomas, lymphocytic leukemias (ALL and CLL), and multiple myeloma. See also carcinoma, leukemia, lymphoma, melanoma, multiple myeloma, myeloid leukemia, sarcoma.

non-small cell lung cancer

also called NSCLC. One of the main classes or categories of lung cancer, based on how the cells look under the microscope. Non-small cell lung cancer includes 3 major types: squamous cell (or epidermoid) carcinoma, adenocarcinoma, and large cell (undifferentiated) carcinoma of the lung. See also carcinoma. Compare to small cell lung cancer.



also called pre-malignant. Changes in cells that may, but do not always, become cancer.


small cell lung cancer

one of the 2 main types of lung cancer classified based on how the cells look under the microscope. Small cell lung cancer tends to grow and spread faster than non-small- cell lung cancer. Compare to non-small-cell lung cancer.


triple-negative breast cancer

breast cancer that does not have estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors, or human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2). This limits the effective treatment options for patients. See also estrogen receptor assay, human epidermal growth factor receptor 2, progesterone receptor assay.


unstaged cancer

cancer that has been diagnosed but has not yet been staged, so the full extent of the cancer is not yet known. See also staging.